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27 November 2014

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You are in: Cumbria > Coast > Stage 6 - St Nicholas Tower

St Nicholas Tower

The back of St Nicholas Tower

Stage 6 - St Nicholas Tower

The church might have burnt down in 1971, but the decision to keep the bell tower has paid off.

Maritime Whitehaven

Whitehaven was once one of the largest ports in England in the 1700s - second only to London.

Coal-mining and shipbuilding provided work and wealth for the town.

Over 1,000 vessels were built in the Whitehaven shipyards.

The third oldest iron-built ship still in use was built in Whitehaven in 1888 and has been moored in the centre of Stockholm since 1949 as a floating youth hostel under the name 'Af Chapman'.

Whitehaven was once the most important rum port of the UK - that intoxicating drink was a favourite of many.

Tobacco was another favourite trade good and Whitehaven soon became the main importer on the West Coast.

Whitehaven was the first planned town since medieval times and is said to have inspired the grid lay-out of New York.

John Paul Jones, the founder of the American Navy was trained in the town and he was also in charge of the only American invasion of the English mainland - in Whitehaven.

The grandmother of the first president of the USA, Mildred Gale, is buried in Whitehaven.

As Scotch Street reaches an end, the imposing house on the corner of Scotch Street and Lowther Street is the Union Hall where the offices of the Guardians of the Poor were. In here, many discussions on how to best help Whitehaven’s less fortunate people were held.

St Nicholas Tower

St Nicholas Tower

On the corner, take a left turn onto Lowther Street. This commercial street was built as the broadest street in the grid system, and as you walk down it towards the harbour, notice how the buildings get smaller as you get closer to the harbour front. This showed the level of significance of the shop’s trade as you headed away from the centre of the town.

In almost the middle of Lowther Street on your right hand side, you will come across St Nicholas Tower and Gardens. This tower is all that remains from the third St Nicholas church, built in the 1880s.

Third time lucky...

The site for the church had been used as a place of worship as early as 1642, when a small chapel had been used by fishermen and their families.

As the population grew, so did the congregation and it was decided that a bigger church would be built and the chapel was demolished.

All that remains of that first building is the stone doorway from 1693 which has been preserved and is now at the entrance of the present building.

St Nicholas Garden

The garden has won numerous awards

In 1883, a third church was consecrated on the site which could accommodate up to 600 people and it became the parish church. The building consisted of a nave, chancel, side chapel, clerestory, tower and an organ chamber.

One August afternoon in 1971, a fire caused by an electrical fault in the organ destroyed the nave and sanctuary of St Nicholas church, leaving only the tower and the side chapel.

It was decided against rebuilding the church as congregation numbers had dwindled over the years and the congregation was united with St James Church to form the parish of Whitehaven.

Coffee morning - a modern use of old tower

Today, the tower stands as an imposing focal point in the town. As you enter the building, a glass window looks out onto what once was the nave, only the foundation and a piece of the wall at the far end.

Back of St Nicholas Tower

All that remains of the church ...

In the tower building itself, coffee mornings are serves and services are hold in the small chapel.

The clock tower is open to the public with access by a narrow stone spiral staircase. At the top stands an impressive 150-year-old clock which is wound every seven days.

Visitors are invited to have a go at winding it up, but remember that you will not only see the bell, but also hear it!

In the grounds of the old churchyard, a garden has been constructed incorporating some of the old gravestones, similar to the Trinity Gardens.

 Mildred Gale, the grand-mother of the first American president George Washington, is buried in the St Nicholas Gardens, so the American ties are evident here as well.

last updated: 11/03/2008 at 12:18
created: 05/07/2005

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